I have to confess that as the holiday season approaches every year, I feel dread. Of course, I do really look forward to celebrating and sharing time with family and friends. Nevertheless, the reality is, holidays are a lot of work on top of the work we already have on our plates every day. If your plate is like mine, it’s already overloaded so holidays can tip us into a state of over-the-top STRESS.
This year, my plate included moving my 91 year old mother from Connecticut where she’s lived since 1958 to Santa Barbara to be near me. So instead of shopping for presents or getting the house ready for my annual Christmas party on the 23rd, I’ve been handling the movers and keeping her from stressing out as much as possible. In the process, I’ve been looking at how I handle stress and what I can do to reduce it.
My conclusion? It all starts in the brain with our thoughts. Yes, we can reduce caffeine, yes we can exercise, yes we can avoid sugar and junk foods, and yes we can try to get more sleep. All those things help, but if you don’t control your stress-provoking thoughts, you’ll lose the stress battle.
Relaxing The Brain
Our brains need to relax. Not just when we sleep or when we go on vacation, watch TV, play computer games etc. They need to relax in a way that shifts our attention from an objective, narrow focus to a diffused, immersed state of being.
We spend the majority of our time focused on whatever task is in front of us or whatever screen we’re gazing at. In the background, we run a continual stream of thoughts like never ending chatter. We keep our brains in a state of high attention just like a high fire alert, always anticipating what’s next or fearing something that could possibly occur even though it hasn’t yet.
Watching my mother during this move was great reflection for watching myself. A lot of time spent worrying about anything one could possibly worry about but with little useful result. In the meantime, the brain is telling our body to pump out stress hormones and keep the muscles tense in case of emergency.
After awhile, we start to break down. Physical symptoms appear. Moods get irritable or worse, hysterical. We get forgetful. Our brains feel foggy. It is clearly time to stop, but how to do so when there is still so much to do?
Open Your Brains’ Focus
Last March, I posted a blog about going back to sleep by using a new technique called Open Focus Attention Training that has been pioneered by Dr. Les Fehmi. Now I find that using it during the day, helps me relax my brain and recover from stressing about my stress!
It really isn’t hard and it only takes a few minutes away from whatever you’re doing. You can do it with your eyes open or closed.
If you need your eyes open, start to notice the periphery of your vision. Instead of focusing on something right in front of you, notice the whole scene your eyes can see, especially what is at the furthest edges of your vision.
Then feel your body, relaxing tension where you perceive you’re holding it like in the shoulders and hands, solar plexus or buttocks. Do a quick body scan and take some deep breaths while you continue to take in the whole vision of what your gaze encompasses. Think of a cat or dog and imitate the soft focus that they have when they’re lying down just relaxing. Do it now while you’re reading this!
If you want to close your eyes, start to feel the space between your eyes. Then notice the space between your ears, between your lips and your nose, between your thumb and first finger. Keep focusing on space while you move your attention around your body and breathe deeply, relaxing your body’s tension wherever you notice it.
Note To Self
Do this more often! Today I’m going to set a series of reminders in my phone to open my focus every hour and give my brain a relaxation break. Do it with me! It’s all about finding a moment. We don’t have to meditate for hours though that would be nice. We don’t have to go on vacation, though we might wish we could. Let’s just create more relaxations moments throughout our day and keep our brains and thus our bodies, mind and spirit, nourished and refreshed by frequent baths of open focused attention!
I highly recommend Les Fehmi’s book, The Open Focus Brain, and the CD in the back will guide you through some great attention training exercises so you can experience what it feels like to relax the brain into a diffused, immersed focus.
One More Delicious Way to Relax Your Focus
If you’re sipping a cup of Teeccino, relax your focus by taking in the aroma of the brew as it wafts under your nose. Feel the warmth as it slides down your throat, and taste the sweet notes of Teeccino on the tip of your tongue and the bitter flavors around the edges of your tongue. Take in all the sensory information you can in a moment. This too will open your focus by having all your senses come alive to experience the joys of life!